The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions

Jonathan McCalmont @ 12-10-2011

 

  1. Context, Dear Boy… Context

Here is a common complaint:

‘One of the problems facing video game writing is a systemic failure to place games in their correct historical context’

What this generally means is that writers fail to open their reviews with a lengthy diatribe on the history of this or that genre. While I think that there is definitely a place for that type of opening and am quite partial to it myself, I think that the real problem of context is far more local and far less high-minded. The true problem of context is that how you experience a particular video game is likely to be determined by the games you played immediately before. For example, if you move from playing one version of Civilization to the next then the thing that is most likely stand out is the developers’ latest fine-tuning of the game’s basic formula. Conversely, if you pick up Civilization V after Europa Universalis III, you will most likely be struck by the weakness of the AI and the lack of control you have over your own economy. Aesthetic reactions, like all reactions, are highly contextual. This much was evident in the reaction to Eidos Montreal’s recent reboot of the Deus Ex franchise entitled Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Continue reading “The Shameful Joys of Deus Ex: Human Revolutions”


Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement

Jonathan McCalmont @ 17-08-2011

It rained on Saturday afternoon. It rained and it rained and it rained. It rained so much that I couldn’t go out, not even to the cinema, not even for a walk. I was trapped, so I decided to invest some serious time in a video game. I powered up the PS3, slid the armchair just that little bit closer to the TV and I dipped my toes into the world of Sucker Punch Productions’ superhero sandbox extravaganza Infamous 2.

A few hours later, I unfolded myself from the chair and looked up at the clock on the wall… I registered 5 pm but my joints were screaming. How long had I been here? In something of a daze, I headed upstairs to my computer where I checked my email. My computer’s clock read 7:30 pm. Surely this was a glitch. I googled the time: same problem. I headed downstairs and asked my girlfriend what time it was and she pointed to the clock… the one that I had checked only a few minutes earlier. It now read 7:35 pm. Continue reading “Infamous 2: Mindless Fun and the Basis of Aesthetic Judgement”


Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation

Jonathan McCalmont @ 22-06-2011

It didn’t take me long to realise that something wasn’t right.

As a devotee of noir fiction and a long-time admirer of both James Ellroy’s LA Quartet and Curtis Hanson’s L.A. Confidential (1997), I was more than looking forward to Team Bondi’s attempt to recreate 1950s Los Angeles using the Grand Theft Auto sandbox template. However, as soon as Ken Cosgrove was shoved into an interview room with a suspect and told to extract a confession, I knew that something was desperately wrong – not just with L.A. Noire, but with video games as a whole. After decades of investment in realistic graphics and physics engines, modern video games can perfectly recreate what it is like to shoot someone in the face… but ask them to recreate a believable conversation between two humans and they are at a complete loss. What we need is a revolution in the way that games portray social interaction. Continue reading “Pixel-Bitching: L.A. Noire and the Art of Conversation”


Paying Attention is Not Fun: Crackdown 2

Jonathan McCalmont @ 15-09-2010

Back in 2007 Realtime Studio’s Crackdown limped onto the XBox 360.  Originally intended for release on the original XBox, Crackdown had been beset by technical hitches and a series of disastrous decisions during the development process.  Despite Realtime receiving quite a bit of aid from Microsoft, the game’s testing did not go well.  In fact, it went so poorly that Microsoft decided to package the game with the Halo 3 demo in a desperate attempt to boost sales and recuperate some of the money spent during the game’s epic development cycle.

Originally conceived by David Jones — one of the developers behind the original Grand Theft Auto (1997) — Crackdown was intended as an attempt to go one better than the GTA franchise.  Where GTA had you running around a sandbox-style city causing chaos and climbing the ladder of the criminal underworld, Crackdown gave you super-powers before letting you loose on a similar sandbox-style city.  The reviews were surprisingly positive, because Crackdown managed to capitalise on one of the great joys of GTA: ignoring the plot and blowing things up.  Crackdown was all about the fun. Continue reading “Paying Attention is Not Fun: Crackdown 2”


Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb

Jonathan McCalmont @ 30-06-2010

Blasphemous Geometries by Jonathan McCalmont

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I have never been to the festival of hubris and chest-thumping that is the American video games industry’s yearly trade-fair E3 (a.k.a. ‘E Cubed’, a.k.a. ‘Electronic Entertainment Expo’), but the mere thought of it makes me feel somewhat ill. A friend of mine once attended a video game trade fair in Japan. He returned not with talk of games, but of the dozens of overweight middle-aged men who practically came to blows as they jostled for the best angle from which to take up-skirt photographs of the models manning the various booths.

As disturbing and sleazy as this might well sound, it still manages to cast Japanese trade shows in a considerably better light than a lot of the coverage that came out of E3. Every so often, an event or an article will prompt the collection of sick-souled outcasts known as ‘video game journalists’ into a fit of ethical navel-gazing: are their reviews too soft? are their editorial processes too open to commercial pressures? do they allow their fannishness to override their professional integrity? Oddly enough, these periodic bouts of hand-wringing never coincide with E3.

E3 is a principles-free zone as far as video game reporting is concerned: Journalists travel from all over the world to sit in huge conference halls where they are patronised to within an inch of their wretched lives by people from the PR departments of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. At a time when cynicism and critical thinking might allow a decent writer to cut through the bullshit and provide some insights into the direction the industry is taking, most games writers choose instead to recycle press releases and gush about games that are usually indistinguishable from the disappointing batch of warmed-over ideas dished out the previous year. At least the creepy Japanese guys had an excuse for wandering around a trade fair doused in sweat and sporting huge hard-ons.

Microsoft Kinect with Xbox 360

Continue reading “Microsoft Kinect: The Call of the Womb”


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